Monday, April 22, 2013

Voting With Their Feet

Puerto Natales, one of the places where we stayed on our trip to Chile last winter, is not a big town. In the Patagonian summer it does modestly well out of tourism, mainly from those who want to walk, as we did, the nearby Torres del Paine national park. Given the way the wind blew when we visited I can't imagine wanting to spend too much time there outside of that slightly warmer season. It's certainly not the first place you would expect to find members of the growing Spanish diaspora, those for whom economic exile is becoming the only way forward. But the waiter who served us one night in the local asador was from Barcelona, and the receptionist in our hotel from Canarias.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we were at a family wedding in Oxfordshire. Having breakfast in the hotel the morning of the wedding my partner was talking in English to the waitress for a few seconds until, in that way the Spanish have of recognising each other, the waitress started talking to her in Spanish. Two people from Cadiz working in the middle of the English countryside. Last week it was a weekend in Innsbruck, the hotel receptionist who checked us in was Catalan. So what, some people say, young Spaniards have spent periods abroad for years and there is some truth in that. London in the late 1980's and 1990's always seemed to have a large Spanish population.

But I think some things have changed. Young Spaniards are not just going overseas now to get away from home for a year and pretend to learn a foreign language. Also, many of those who are leaving are not so young. People who would possibly be thinking more in terms of a settled life and maybe starting a family are also amongst those looking for a fresh chance overseas. This is not the rural exodus of the 1950's and 1960's, many of those making the move belong to the best educated sector of Spanish society. Many of them are going for the foreseeable future.

To the lords of the rentier economy, the Botins and others, there is no problem. They've got what they want from the crisis and everything seems to be going just fine as they pick over the debris from the crash. A complacent, and utterly useless, government seeks only to manage the situation in such a way that they don't get replaced by anyone else. Job creation is a skill reserved for friends and family only. The Spanish government even sets up websites to encourage people to look for work overseas. This weeks new government euphemism in a crisis where euphemism production has never been so healthy is to describe the growing exodus as "external mobility". 

The government will be happy to get rid of those voters most likely to be critical, and emigration looks like being the only factor in the next few years (barring extensive statistical manipulation) that can make any significant dent in an unemployment figure likely to reach 27% by the end of this year. So if lots of people leave it can be presented as yet another fake signal of economic recovery. Those on the receiving end are not fooled by the talk of recovery, they can look at piles of unsuccessful job applications, their friends in the same situation, and draw a sad but understandable conclusion. It's Spain's huge loss, a well prepared generation taking their skills elsewhere.


ejh said...

Not that there is any talk of recovery, except as something that's always going to happen a few months down the line.

I assume, in all seriousness, that the European elite have talked through what the future's going to look like and have decided that emigration is the future for the countries of the periphery, whose economies will be devoted to low-wage tourism and debt repayments. And North and South, everybody's pension gets privatised.

Graeme said...

There is a lot of talk of recovery from those who think it just means stability in the financial markets and banks that can pay big bonuses again - not that they ever stopped. The latest IMF figures are very revealing about how the future is really seen, low growth (to be revised downwards later) and Spanish unemployment below 20% in this decade is just a pipe dream.

ejh said...

Though there'll be plenty of opportunities in the meantime to revise downwards Spanish employment rights on the claim that this will improve their employment prospects.

Graeme said...

Now you're just being cynical. Another labour market reform is needed to correct those undesirable imbalances caused by the previous reforms leaving a few isolated pockets of people with employment protection.

Anonymous said...

The most terrible thing is that many of those who left will never return. So all those good skills will be lost for the country, creating more poverty.